Mark C. responds to Shane on English Catholicism

Mark C’s comment in response to Shane Shaetzel’s post on The Rise of English Catholicism is too good to leave in the comments section in case some readers miss it.  So, I am copying and pasting it in full here:


First, Shane is right about Sacred English being an important element of English Catholicism. But it is far from the only one. Yes, the liturgy (if it is not to be said in Latin) should be said in a sacral, hieratic form of language – either a separate liturgical language, or a distinct, higher liturgical dialect of the usual vernacular. For reasons why, see this document from the Benedict XVI-era Vatican. Indeed, almost all liturgical traditions, within Christianity and beyond, accept this principle. Orthodox worship does not use (or did not until very recently) modern Greek or Russian, but Koine / Attic Greek and Old Slavonic. Orthodox Jewish worship doesn’t use modern Israeli Hebrew (and kept using classical Hebrew even when the vernacular language of the Jewish community was Aramaic or Yiddish or Ladino). Hindu worship uses Sanskrit, not Hindi. In English, the language of the BCP and the KJV is our sacred vernacular, and this is recognized well beyond the bounds of the Anglican communion (as evidenced by the common translation of the Our Father Shane discusses), even if it was better preserved in the Anglican Prayer Book tradition than in most other corners of the English-speaking Church. Therefore, one of the gifts the Ordinariate brings to the Catholic Church in the English speaking world is the opportunity to experience worship in the sacred vernacular, just as Summorum Pontificum and the Ecclesia Dei communities give Catholics the opportunity to experience worship in the Catholic Church’s universal sacred language of Latin.

But English Catholicism is about much, much more than the use of Sacred English. It is about the prayer book form of the daily office, both for private devotion and public celebration of Mattins and Evensong. It is about sacred music, including both the English choral and chant traditions of Byrd, Tallis, and Merbecke, and the later flourishing of English hymnody under the likes of J.M. Neale, Dearmer, and Vaughan Williams. It is about a patristic approach to theology and scholarship flowing out of Oxford and Cambridge. It is about the English medieval mystical tradition of Julian of Norwich, the Cloud of Unknowing, etc., later appropriated by Anglicans and Catholics alike.

It is also wrong to say, as Shane does, that English Catholicism “hasn’t existed since the 16th century.” If English Catholicism was simply about reviving something that had died out 500 years ago, there would be little point to it. It would be like trying to revive the North African Catholicism of St. Augustine’s day. The point is English Catholicism continued to exist, but in a broken, fragmented, often hidden state, within both High Church Anglicanism and recusant English Roman Catholicism, and that Anglicans and Catholics have continued to find much good in the English Catholic tradition that has nurtured their faith. The Ordinariate should be an effort to revive English Catholicism in its fullness, bringing together all of its strands and applying them to the mission of the Church today. That may begin with the Divine Worship form of liturgy and the use of Sacred English, but it would be a real shame if it stops there.

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12 Responses to Mark C. responds to Shane on English Catholicism

  1. I agree wholeheartedly. For some reason, these other aspects of the patrimony are frequently neglected in the North American Ordinariate. I for one would like to see much more done in Ordinariate parishes to familiarize the faithful with the rich spiritual heritage of English Catholicism (and Anglo-Catholicism), and to see programs developed at the Ordinariate level to assist parishes in doing so. Quite a bit of attention has been given to the liturgy (rightly and understandably so), but to neglect English spirituality is to create a lopsided and misleading impression of what our “legitimate patrimony” is, which we should be preserving and sharing for the sake of the whole Church.


  2. mahonchristopher says:

    I agree that our Anglican tradition is accurately described as “English Catholicism”, but “English Catholicism” doesn’t identify our tradition as accurately or precisely as “Anglican Catholicism” does. For that reason, I think we have to be careful not to allow the gradual relinquishing of the Anglican identity; that identity is intrinsically connected to our Anglican patrimony, and to lose one would be to lose the other. English Roman Catholicism, after all, is the other half of the broken vase in Aidan Nichols’s analogy. The two are inherently connected and inform each other, but they shouldn’t be hybridized and submerged within each other, as in a melting pot. Only by retaining their two related but distinct integrities can they continue to preserve the overall English Catholic tradition whole, both in its Anglican side and its English Roman side.


    • tbako says:

      I agree, Christopher, especially since the term Ecclesia Anglicana predates the schism, and the Ordinariate is living proof that one can be Anglican while being in full communion with the Holy Catholic and Roman Church. IMHO the term “Anglican Catholicism” properly emphasizes the fact that a lot of the treasures of pre-Reformation English Catholicism survived in schism, while they atrophied at the same time in continental Catholicism — the Office being the prime example (pun intended). Now all these seeds, kept alive, can enrich the common soil of the Catholic Church again. Thanks be to God!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. As Solitary Religious formerly in TEC and now having private vows in the Ordinariate I have been strongly influenced in my ascetical and prayer life “The Cloud” and Dame Julian as well as patristics and the poets so beloved of the Church in England; Hopkins, Herbert, et al. There is a simple homeliness and a lingering over communion with Our Lord. That homeliness and lingering takes many forms…the simplicity of the Divine Office, tea with friends and conversation, lingering over a poem or sermon, the sitting before the Blessed Sacrament. Then there is the hopeful, trustful and abiding sense of the “Keep calm and carry on” of being in Christ.

    I do not know if this communicates well the sense that I have of some of that patrimony we bring to the Church. Those gifts I received in Anglicanism I happily retain.

    Liked by 2 people

    • tbako says:

      Sounds like what Br. John-Bede Pauley frequently writes about, and what my wife and I (neither of us having any Anglican background, and being full OCSP members through an intersection of familial and canonical quirks) have encountered by immersing ourselves in the spiritual life of the Ordinariate. Even just reading the extra Patrimonial readings provided in the Customary of OLW, I am often struck by their Christocentric and Pneumatocentric “warmth.”


      • Ellen Christine Elizabeth Carney says:

        Yes, there is a profoundly Christocentric and Incarnational ethos that has drawn many of us and remains the bedrock of our spirituality.


  4. EPMS says:

    The preservation of an ancient language—or form of dress—in liturgy despite the fact that it has ceased to be used elsewhere is understandable, and many examples can be cited. Religion often contains a conservative impulse. It is also understandable that some people find these things obstacles and distractions, but that is another discussion. But what of “retrofitting” or creating something new in the style of the old? In the 19C many people considered that Late Gothic was the only “Christian” architecture and most new churches were in this style, even if they were made out of bricks and the pillars were cast iron. J. M. Neale put together “Good King Wenceslas” out of a spritely late mediaeval spring carol and his own clearly Victorian sentiments. Do we want liturgies that are to ancient forms as Sleeping Beauty’s Castle is to a mediaeval fortress?


  5. Thank you Mark C. for this fantastic critique, and if it is permissible, I will copy and paste it to the comments section on my blog for further discussion there as well.


  6. Robert says:

    “Ancient forms as Sleeping Beauty’s Castle…” The liturgy has always been a dialogue with past forms and current needs. I’m always reminded that the Sacral English of the KJV was just that, not the vernacular spoken in the streets; it was written to sound elevated and ‘old-fashioned’, beauty being the guide. I think it is a mistake to simply revive the past as though 500 years haven’t come to pass between us; but to look to the past to find beautiful forms and ways that can speak to today’s context? I have no problem with that. Indeed, I think that’s the right path, and by doing so a new castle will be built, but not a phoney one as Sleeping Beauty’s… but one that will be transcendent and beautiful and speak to this generation and those to come.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. EPMS says:

    “Elevated”, like Martha’s objection that Lazarus “stinketh” or “I will cut off from Ahab every one that pisseth against a wall”? The KJV attempted to iron out stylistic differences in the original texts, especially the Hebrew, but unless you are a specialist in “the vernacular spoken in the streets” in 17thC England I suggest you do not attempt to argue that it was trying for a deliberately antiquated or formal style. Beauty is, of course, in the eye of the beholder.


  8. TechBook says:

    I agree, Christopher, especially since the term Ecclesia Anglicana predates the schism, and the Ordinariate is living proof that one can be Anglican while being in full communion with the Holy Catholic and Roman Church.
    I do not know if this communicates well the sense that I have of some of that patrimony we bring to the Church.


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